Photo: Duterte and Putin: archetypal ‘strongmen’. by by Пресс-служба Президента России http://www.kremlin.ru
A year ago on the blog on the Yes Facebook page I encouraged readers to enjoy 2016 while it lasted because 2017 could be a world of President Putin, President Trump and President Le Penn. We didn’t enjoy 2016 and the future is looking even grimmer than I quipped. Indeed, what is emerging is a world of strongmen.
For three decades we have seen democracy sweeping across the world; first in the former Communist world, then in Latin America and then in much of Africa. When the Arab Spring erupted it seemed that democracy was unstoppable. Oh, how innocent we were! In recent years many of the world’s democracies have been hollowed out, not only the new ones but even some of the more established democratic nations.
The new model seems to be the strongman; a populist leader with a reputation for getting things done. He is nationalist and anti-intellectual, has a vaguely traditionalist religious agenda and a contempt for the rule of law – especially international law. Yes, I’m referring to Trump but he is just the latest in a long list of strongmen. Putin, Netanyahu, Modi and Erdogan are better established examples (in Russia, Israel, India and Turkey, respectively). An extreme case is Duterte in the Philippines, an elected president who can openly boast about having personally murdered people!
The US case might be a bit worrying but these things don’t happen in Europe, right? Maybe not15 in the large western European nations yet but Orbán in Hungary is an archetypal strongman. “Democracy, human rights and the rule of law11 are in danger in Poland” too – not my words, the words of a declaration from the European Parliament. There the nationalist-religious government is led by a woman (it’s not all about testosterone).
Of the 116 countries that claim to be democratic, only 20 are full democracies (with just 8.9% of the world’s population) according to the Democracy Index. Genuine democracy is not just18 about voting every four years; the rule of law11, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech, freedom of the press are just as important. Those institutions are under threat in the majority of formally democratic countries.
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 to encourage – incite
 while it lasted – (in this case) during this year
 grimmer – more depressing, more sombre
 to quip – joke
 indeed – (emphatic) in fact
 to sweep across (sweep-swept-swept) – propagate across, proliferate around
 former – ex-
 to hollow sth. out – empty the contents of sth. so that it has no real substance
 to get things done (get-got-got) – achieve results
 contempt – disdain
 the rule of law – the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws
 just – (in this case) simply
 to boast about – be proud of, take pride in
 large – (false friend) big
 not… yet – still not
 is led by – (in this case) has a Prime Minister who is
 claim to be – declare that they are
 just – (in this case) only
 judiciary – judicial authorities, judges
 the press – the media, newspapers and other sources of information
 just as – equally
 under threat – in danger
 the Netherlands – Holland
 actually – (false friend) really
 to wake sb. up (wake-woke-woken) – cause sb. to react